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Preparing for Polaris

Posted by Jer / June 10, 2010

20100609polaris.jpgThe countdown is on. It's Polaris Prize time again, and this week (June 8th at 11:59pm to be precise) the first ballots were due from jurors. The long list of 40 albums will be announced in 7 days and that'll be whittled down to ten in about a month and a half.

For those not familiar with Polaris, it's an annual award that honours "creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music" by recognizing by the best album of the year, regardless of sales, popularity or anything else. The prize is picked by a jury of about 175 plus writers, critics, radio hosts, bloggers, other music types. There's more than a few Montreal acts contending for a spot on the long and short lists, from local darlings Plants and Animals, to twisted hip hopper Ira Lee, to franco favourites Karkwa, to shoe-gazers My People Sleeping and more.

Through my work at Midnight Poutine, I was lucky enough to be part of the voting process again this year. And I should stress...the ballot below represents my views and mine alone. Greg or Phil would likely slap me silly for not including anything heavier than Karkwa on my voting slip.

Here's what my first ballot looked like, all bands which you've likely heard on the podcast. If you haven't, do yourself a favour and check them out. For the love of all things music. Check them out.

1. Oh Bijou - Beacons
Beacons came out very near the beginning of the eligibility period for this year's prize. I hope the rest of the jury didn't forget about it in the meantime. Though if you've listened to this album, you know it's pretty hard to forget. For the last 4 years or so, this Trinity Bellwoods-based collective has been making some of the most gorgeous, lush, bittersweet music in Canada. It's quiet when it needs to be but swells and expands like water. "Canon March" is 4min47sec of perfectly paced orchestral pop and the breakdown towards the end of "Make it Gold" is heart-wrenchingly emotive.

2. Yukon Blonde - Yukon Blonde
Easily the catchiest, funnest album made in Canada this year. The debut effort from this west coast crew of psych-rockers is full of clever moments. The harmonies are tight, the production is bright and the mood is pitch-perfect. This is my summer 2010 album, even though it arrived in my mailbox last fall or winter. It's also the only album on the long list that my 3 year old son loves enough to sing spontaneously when we're biking around town.

3. Evening Hymns - Spirit Guides
Giving Oh Bijou a run for their money in the "gorgeous and lush" categories, Evening Hymns' Spirit Guides is a frighteningly pretty disc. I was actually hesitant to include both on my ballot since they are so similar in tone (possibly because someone from Oh Bijou helped them record this), but Polaris rules stipulate that voting decisions should be made regardless of genre or whatever else. As a sound studies guy, I also like that the band included what amounts to a sound walk or field recording as one of their tracks: a 5 minute art piece of rain falling in Ontario. Every time I listen to this album, I'm torn. I want to stay awake to because it's so good, but it's also the perfect music to drift off to.

4. Karkwa - Les Chemins de Verre
Karkwa is one of the best benefits to come out of living in Montreal. I'm not sure how much traction they have outside this city/province, and I highly doubt I would have stumbled across them if I had moved anywhere else. Their last albums, Le Volume Du Vent, was one of my favourites of 2008. I think I was initially drawn to them because they sounded like a French version of Radiohead, but this album has them pulling on sounds from a range of respected rock acts (Beatles, Broken Social Scene, Patrick Watson). It's got moody guitars and pulsing beats, but it's well worth a listen. The lyrics are great too, even if I only catch half of them.

5. Reverie Sound Revue - Reverie Sound Revue
I've been telling anyone that would listen to pay attention to Reverie Sound Revue since this album found my inbox in the fall. The band is mystical, like a unicorn. They released an EP in 2003 which was 5 or 6 slices of indie-electro-pop bliss and then dropped off the face of the Canadian music scene (the band lives in 3 separate cities, making being a band pretty difficult. also, the lead singer, Lisa Lobsinger, is part of the extended Broken Social Scene gang, so that keeps her busy). I couldn't have been happier to hear they had a full length out, finally. It's delicate and fragile and incredibly understated. So much so that it doesn't have a hope in hell of making the long list. Still, I'll keep my fingers crossed for this seriously underrated dark horse.

Runners Up:

Shad. This guy is probably one of Canada's most talented hip hop lyricists right now. I say this having absolutely no credibility in knowledge of Canada's vast hip hop scenes. My point is he's damn good, and so is this album. I won't be surprised if he's on my final ballot.

Aidan Knight. I knew next to nothing about Aidan Knight and his album Versicolour when it landed on my desk. He overcame my lack of expectations and then some. The disc is filled with thoughtful tracks that linger long after listening.

PostdataPostdata is the project of Wintersleep's Paul Murphy. It was locked into my ballot until Evening Hymns came along, but it wasn't easy choosing between the two. It's a (mostly) stripped down intimate album, made up of poetic fragments and dream spaces.

Do Make Say Think Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think both had excellent albums this year. I was particularly impressed with DMST's Other Truths and was sad not to have been able to include it on my ballot. They should get to the long list just for having the guts to record an album with 4 12-minute songs. They are easily some of Canada's most talented musicians.

More on Polaris in the upcoming weeks. For those interested in the process, the long list gets announced in 7 days.



phil / June 10, 2010 at 03:56 pm
i could slap you not only for not including heavier stuff, but also for not including :
Caribou : Swim (have a feeling, he'll make the shortlist again this year);
Guillaume & The Coutu Dumonts : Breaking the fourth wall;
Vulgaires Machins : Requiem pour les sourds (Polaris needs more punk);
Fred Fortin : Plastrer la lune (Polaris
needs more french nominees);
Despised Icon : Days of mourning (Yeah, heavy);
but since you're a nice guy, i won't do it...

couldn't agress more with Karwa and Do Make Say Think though (also have a feeling the ladder will make the short list).

Jer / June 10, 2010 at 05:07 pm
Caribou's album is good. Much better than Andorra in my opinion. Still, I feel like there are some stand out tracks but as a whole the album doesn't work for me.

Your list is solid heavy as I'd expect from you. Fred Fortin was definitely getting a lot of love from some of the MTL jurors...let's hope it extends outwards.
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